Sunday, May 20, 2018
Education

Largo High principal retires with improved scores intact

LARGO

The pictures of her graduating classes are gone from the wall, and the books have been cleaned off her desk and returned to the school library.

A small flash drive sat on Marjorie Sundstrom's desk Tuesday morning. It contained every file she needed during her four years as principal of Largo High School, and soon she'll hand it to Brad Finkbiner, her successor.

After 36 years in Pinellas County schools, Sundstrom, 60, is retiring this month. She sat in her office Tuesday and reflected on her tenure at a school she says has great potential and an undeserved bad reputation.

Largo High had earned only C and D grades from the state under Sundstrom until the latest high school grades came out in January. Largo's new grade: B.

The grade reinforced to Sundstrom that the work she had done since taking the job in 2008 was making an impact.

"It was nice to have the work validated," she said, "but we don't need that. We already know that we are working to prepare these kids for the world after graduation."

Sundstrom's last class, 326 seniors, graduated Monday. Sundstrom thinks changes under her leadership, including improved programs offering certification in careers such as heating and ventilation, global information systems, and drafting and design better prepared the Class of 2012 for life after high school.

The biggest challenge Sundstrom faced, she said, was trying to improve those programs while dealing with cuts to staff and funding.

The Miami native got started in Pinellas schools as a teacher at St. Petersburg's North Shore Elementary in 1976. She later moved into administration, serving as an assistant principal at St. Petersburg, Osceola and Lakewood high schools.

Most of the personal mementos left in Sundstrom's office last week were ocean-related: a small lighthouse, a picture of the tide crashing against rocks, another of a yacht and a rowboat navigating turbulent waters. Sundstrom and her husband, Bill, buy boats, fix them up and sell them.

Bill Sundstrom retired from the city of St. Petersburg this year, and when Marjorie joins him in retirement at the end of the month, the Sundstroms plan to chart a few journeys on their latest purchase — a 42-foot Grand Banks trawler. Sundstrom wants to take the boat up the west coast of Florida and maybe even travel the Great Loop, the route boaters use to circumnavigate eastern North America, traveling south around Florida, north up to New York and through the Great Lakes, and then navigating rivers south through the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico.

Before she hits the water, though, Sundstrom has a few weeks left at Largo High. She expected to chat some time last week with her replacement. Finkbiner, 52, has 27 years in the district, the last 12 as an assistant principal at Osceola High School. Sundstrom earned $94,086 as Largo principal; Finkbiner will make $87,494.

A Pinellas Park resident, Finkbiner said Tuesday he felt humbled to follow in Sundstrom's footsteps.

"She's done a tremendous job," he said. "They are right on the verge of really doing some great things at Largo High."

This will be Sundstrom's second opportunity to serve as mentor to Finkbiner. She helped him 12 years ago when he was promoted from teacher to assistant principal at Osceola High.

"My message to him will be to set your expectations high . . . and don't let up," Sundstrom said. "The kids know I'll take nothing less than their best. And that's crucial."

Will Hobson can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4167 or. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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